As I’ve mentioned before, I have several Home Depots and a Lowe’s near me. Both have garden centers, however I’ve found that I usually prefer to go to the local small chain nursery for plants, even though the prices are higher. Sometimes, the better service and quality is worth the higher prices.

Soil and Compost
If I just need a bag of garden soil, I’ll hit Costco or Home Depot. In this situation, the higher price isn’t justified – the name brands sold at the big box stores are better. However, I like to mix the soil with compost. I’ve found that the nursery’s compost is better – I get a good mix instead of a single-source compost. Ultimately, it’s cheaper to buy the mix instead of several different kinds of compost if I only need a little. Of course, home compost is the best, but mine’s not ready yet.

Planters and Garden Supports
Definitely go to the big box store for these. The nursery will have a similar selection, but the prices will be much higher. One ceramic pot is as good as another, so there’s no reason to pay more. Unless, of course, you’re buying a lot of plants and don’t want to make an extra run to the big box stores. In this case you have to decide whether an extra hour of your time is worth more than the price difference.

Plants
This is one area where I find the real difference. Although the big box stores have decent plants, the plants at the nursery are generally healthier. They may also be locally grown instead of shipped in from out of state. Interestingly, your local insects (especially our greatly suffering bee population) prefer locally grown versions of the same plant to those shipped in from elsewhere. If you plan to plant a vegetable garden, locally grown flowers and plants that attract bees will greatly improve your success with pollination. Depending on the plant, you’ll usually pay anywhere from $1-$5 more at the local nursery, but it might be worth it.

Advice
The local nursery wins, hands down. I can walk into my local Armstrong, which is about two blocks from my house, and ask any of the employees for advice. If they can’t answer, they’ll get one of the managers to help me. Twice I’ve taken in tree leaves to ask for help correcting a problem. They told me exactly what type of food I needed and how to apply it. When I said I didn’t want to use bug spray, they offered other solutions. Try that at a big box store. You might get lucky, but you might have to wander for a while to find someone with enough knowledge to help you.

As another example, I wanted to plant bee-friendly flowers or herbs near my tomato plants. I asked the first guy I saw and he immediately named two plants. As we walked to the plants, he asked me a little more about my goals, then pointed out the plants, advised me on their maintenance, and told me that they didn’t need a lot of water (important in Los Angeles).

Plant Food
The plant food at my local nursery is much more expensive, but it’s also usually organic. When the nursery recommends a food, I usually buy it there the first time, but then I buy it from the big box store when the first batch runs out.

Both types of stores have their advantages, so it’s really a matter of choice. Do you want higher quality or lower prices?

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